March 27, 2017

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Magic, Dastardly Villains, and Less-Than-Perfect Heroes: New YA Fantasy

Know any teens who can’t wait for HBO’s Game of Thrones to resume airing on April 24? The spring TV season features a fresh crop of book-inspired, fantasy-themed shows. MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles, adapted from Terry Brooks’s beloved series, portrays the adventures of elven princess Amberle (Poppy Drayton), human/elf Wil (Austin Butler), and human Eretria (Ivana Baquero) as they try to stop demons from destroying their world (a postapocalyptic, far-future Earth). In The Magicians, a Syfy original based on Lev Grossman’s eponymous title (Penguin), Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) arrives at the carefully hidden-away Brakebills University, where he and his fellow students forge friendships and refine their spell-casting abilities while facing a dark and dangerous magical adversary. Shadowhunters, which recently premiered on Freeform (formerly ABC Family), is based on Cassandra Clare’s “The Mortal Instruments” series and centers on human-angel hybrid Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara), who hunts demons to uncover clues about her kidnapped mother.

These new series range in tone from traditional high fantasy to offerings with a more modern-day bent. Tempt your fantasy fans with this spectacular sampling of recent genre titles that reflect this enticing smorgasbord of settings and subject matter, feature diverse casts, and treat an alluring array of coming-of-age themes.

Spell casting and Soul Searching

CARRY ON_smallFirst introduced in Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (2013), the irresistible Simon Snow and his magic-wielding cohorts Carry On (2015, both St. Martin’s /Griffin; Gr 8 Up) in their own fulsomely imagined stand-alone novel. Simon, an orphan from the Normal world, is looking forward to his final year at Watford School of Magicks and the challenge of living up to his celebrity status as Chosen One (though prophesized to be the most powerful magician ever, wand basics continue to elude him and his efforts tend more toward exploding bomb than savvy spell casting). Danger lurks in the form of the Insidious Humdrum, the enigmatic enemy believed to be causing the magician-incapacitating dead spots popping up across England. Simon’s best friend Penelope is always reliable, but he’s having relationship issues with his sort-of girlfriend Agatha, his longtime mentor is distracted, and his roommate and archrival, the frustratingly charismatic vampire Baz, is missing. As the year progresses, deep-seated mysteries are exposed and investigated (who is the Humdrum and why does he resemble a much-younger Simon? Where was Baz and who killed his mother? Who are Simon’s parents?). Though devoted adversaries, Simon and Baz forge a partnership to get to the truth, while simultaneously exploring their delectably complex feelings for each other. Told from multiple viewpoints, this page-turner dazzles with believable perspectives, witty moments and spot-on dialogue, emotional sizzle, and articulately handled themes of self-discovery.

History Meets Fantasy

Dark Days ClubAlison Goodman raises Regency romance to titillating new heights with a high-spirited heroine and a hidden horde of demonic creatures that prey upon human souls. It’s 1812 London, and while 18-year-old Lady Helen Wexhall should be focusing on her upcoming presentation to Queen Charlotte and debut ball, she’s fixated upon the strange energy that has pervaded her body. Could it be attributed to her reckless mother, a notorious traitor who died at sea with Helen’s father years ago? Though her kindly aunt and implacable uncle insist she avoid even a hint of scandal, Helen resolves to help her maid investigate the disappearance of a servant girl. And when the magnetic Lord Carlston arrives in town, Helen is mesmerized, despite rumors that he murdered his missing wife. It’s Carlston who reveals The Dark Days Club (Viking, 2016; Gr 8 Up)—a clandestine government agency mandated to dispatch the malevolent Deceivers—and that Helen, like her mother, is a Reclaimer with the unique powers needed to do just that. Meanwhile, the handsome (and high ranking) Duke of Selburn has proposed: Will Helen toss propriety and privilege to the wind and embrace her destiny? From details of décolletage to the inflexible mores of the beau monde, well-appointed drawing rooms to the downtrodden dwellings of London’s Devil’s Acre slum, historical settings and society are thoroughly researched and opulently drawn. This series starter will sweep readers away with its darkly enthralling supernatural elements, emotion-tantalizing love triangle, and demure yet dauntless demon-hunting diva.

Skye_Crown's GameAcross the continent in 1825, two magic-wielding teens seek to serve the tsar and save their country from encroaching enemies. Unfortunately, Russia’s inherent alchemy allows for only one Imperial Enchanter, to be determined by The Crown’s Game (HarperCollins, May 2016; Gr 8 Up), a magical duel that results in instant death for the loser. Vika, 16, the sheltered but strong-willed daughter of a loving nobleman, has been raised on an isolated island where she practices her power to control nature, unaware that she has a competitor. Nikolai, 18, an orphan relocated from the Kazakh steppe to the St. Petersburg court by his calculating and coldhearted mentor, utilizes his powers to pull off extraordinary mechanical feats. He’s been training for the Game for years while keeping his abilities secret from his best friend, the tsar’s son Pasha. Sparks fly when Vika and Nikolai meet, though they both know they must be bitter rivals, pulling out all of the stops to impress the tsar with increasingly astounding manifestations of their otherworldly capacities. Pasha, unaware of the enchanters’ identities, is falling for Vika and questions Nikolai’s loyalty. Told from various viewpoints and set against a richly woven historical tapestry, Evelyn Skye’s Tolstoy-esque fairy tale shimmers with pulse-pounding romance, astonishing wand-touched wonders, startling long-buried secrets, and a climax at once tragic and heart-soaring.

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi HeiligNix, 16, has spent her entire life aboard her father, Slate’s, time-traveling pirate ship, eager to learn how he utilizes antique maps to navigate across the centuries and seas and even into mythical realms. The Temptation and its multinational, multiera crew feel like home to Nix (particularly her maybe-more-than-a-friend shipmate Kash), but Slate is determined to return to the time and place of his daughter’s birth—Honolulu’s Chinatown in 1868—to save her mother, who died soon after Nix was born—and seems willing to sacrifice anything—or anyone—to reach this goal. Slate is devastated when a miscalculation leads them to a too-late 1884 Oahu, where Nix finally gets to put her feet on the ground and soon finds herself enamored by the island’s culture and beauty. Delving into the mysteries of her past, she develops an understanding of the late-19th-century political machinations that ultimately forced the Hawaiian royal family out of power. She also becomes attracted to Blake (an American settler with a shared passion for the island). When her father initiates a desperate plan that places them all in dire danger, Nix must find a way to navigate the best course. Built on an intriguing and adroitly spun-out premise, Heidi Heilig’s The Girl from Everywhere (HarperCollins, 2016; Gr 8 Up) features swashbuckling action, mind-bending time-travel conundrums, and an intrepid heroine with plenty of heart.

What’s Your SuperPower?

sixofcrowsAn ensemble cast of young adult misfits and an against-the-odds heist make for thrills and spills galore in Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows (2015; Gr 7 Up). Raised on the ruthless gang-infested streets of Ketterdam, criminal mastermind Kaz is hired to pull off an audacious prison break by the Merchant Council. They are willing to pay a king’s ransom to extract the creator of jurda parem from the Ice Court and secure control of this potent substance, which augments the innate superpowers of the Grisha peoples and renders them invincible. From skilled acrobat and spy Inej (kidnapped by slavers, sold to a brothel, and liberated by Kaz for whom she now works to pay off her debt) to Nina (a Grisha Heartrender with the capacity to control emotions) to Matthias (a highly trained hunter sworn to destroy all Grisha, though he’s desperately in love with Nina), each member of the crew is vivified with distinct powers and skills, a strikingly portrayed personality, and complex inner motivations and conflicts. The dexterously plotted manner in which the members of this diverse cast interact, clash, and ultimately rise above their differences is as spellbinding as the magic-infused action and exhilarating suspense. The cliff-hanger climax will leave readers clamoring for the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, due out in September. In the meantime, refer them to the author’s “Grisha Trilogy” (Holt).

Dennard_Truthwitch-5In the new “Witchlands” series, Susan Dennard introduces an intricately devised world peopled by individuals born with different specialties. Impetuous Safiya, descendent of an impoverished noble family, is a rare Truthwitch (Tor, 2016; Gr 8 Up); with zero interest in political power or court life, she keeps her ability to distinguish truth from lies secret to decrease the potential for being used as a pawn. The more cautious Iseult, member of an ethnic group disparaged and despised by society, is a Nomatsi Threadwitch who can see the strands of emotion in other people. As best friends and Threadsisters, Safiya and Iseult only want to be left alone to make their way in the world. However, the Twenty Year Truce is about to end, and the three kingdoms that reluctantly share the continent are jockeying for power. With a terrifying Bloodwitch mercenary hot on Safi’s trail, the girls accept the help of Prince Merik, a Windwitch and Nubrevnan admiral who will sacrifice all to save his starving country. They are quickly swept into a maelstrom of politics and magic that places them in danger, challenges their loyalties, and pushes their sword-fighting, spell-casting, strategy-plotting skills to the limits. Strong characterizations, a touch of romance, and themes about finding the courage to seize one’s destiny make for a compelling read.

Fine_Imposter QueenKupari has always been led by Valtia, the only individual capable of commanding the formidable combination of fire and ice magic necessary to run the country and protect it from its enemies. Selected years ago by the elders to one day succeed the reigning queen and raised in isolation in the temple, 16-year-old Elli has been prophesized to be the most potent leader ever, but when Valtia dies unexpectedly, her magic refuses to enter Elli. Humiliated and in fear for her life, The Imposter Queen (S. & S., 2016; Gr 9 Up) flees the temple. Alone, vulnerable, and seriously injured in the outlands, the notorious home to banished outlaws, Elli experiences a change in perception when the handsome and generous-hearted Oskar (a secret ice wielder) comes to her aid, and she begins to make a life among these disenfranchised people. Finally detecting a different type of capability in herself, she begins to make eye-opening discoveries about the magic of Kupari, the purpose and priorities of the priests who hold all of the power, and the role she is destined to play as civil unrest surges and invaders loom. Sarah Fine presents a fresh and fascinating magical world with its own rules and rituals, riveting action and relationships (and a sequel-worthy ending), featuring a protagonist who grows in wisdom, compassion, and self-awareness.

A Warrior’s Heart

Castner, K.D. Daughters of RuinDetermined to usher in an era of Pax Regina (peace of queens), King Declan has mandated that the young princesses of four warring kingdoms, including his own daughter Rhea, to live, train, and study together at his court: Rhea, insecure despite her accomplishments; Cadis, head-turningly gorgeous and a natural leader; quiet yet prepared-for-anything Iren; and emotionally unruly Suki. Now teenagers, the girls seem to have embraced the competitive and power-positioning side of sisterhood. When the castle is attacked by impossible-to-identify insurgents, each princess must decide whom she can trust and where her loyalties lie. The Daughters of Ruin (S. & S., 2016; Gr 8 Up) take turns telling the fast-paced story, employing individualized narrative voices to relate unfolding events, closely held secrets, frequent (often bloody battle) scenes, and a whole lot of surprises. K.D. Castner’s reader-grabbing fantasy includes such delights as the grimwaltz, a ritualized dance during which the well-trained female participant deploys her weapons-enhanced jewels at potential assassins without missing a step; the exacting but somehow motherly Marta, onetime general and the girls’ military training master; and her hunky son Endrit, who spars with the princesses, nonchalantly captivating their hearts while also putting them in their place (don’t worry, he has a destiny-changing secret of his own).

Chima_Flamecaster-4Fantasy master Cinda Williams Chima returns to the world of the “Seven Realms” books to launch a new stand-alone series, set a generation later. After Adrian sul’Han (Ash), prince of the Fells, sees his father murdered, he goes into hiding, determined to hone his wizarding skills as healer and assassin and exact revenge on the man responsible for the killing, the ruthless king of Arden. Jenna Bandelow, a poor orphan in an Ardenine mining town with a cloudy past and a mysterious magemark, has her own bone to pick with the king (the offhandedly coldhearted murder of two friends), and has joined a group of rebels. When fate throws them together at the Arden court, where one has ended up a slave and the other a prisoner, they form an alliance to destroy their shared enemy, and eventually discover that their destinies are intertwined in ways they could never have imagined. A deeply engaging universe, stellar cast of secondary characters, copious political intrigues and plot twists, hints of disturbingly dark forces, and slow-to-simmer romance make Flamecaster (HarperCollins, Apr. 2016; Gr 8 Up) absolutely engrossing, and the eventual revelation of the secret behind Jenna’s magemark will leave readers wanting more (it has to do with scales and claws).

Deliciously Down-to-Earth Heroines

Neumeier_KeeperNo one expects Keri, illegitimate child of Dorric Ailenn, to succeed her father as Lord of Nimmira; after all, she’s got three older half-brothers groomed for the position and has spent her entire life helping her recently deceased mother keep their bakery afloat. She’s putting the finishing touches on a perfectly whipped wedding cake when the Timekeeper marches into the shop to announce that the Lord is dead and Nimmira is to be the next The Keeper of the Mist (Knopf, 2016; Gr 7 Up)—the magical haze that conceals the country from its more powerful (and less prosperous) neighbors. It’s hard enough to assume this leadership role with many doubting her youth and inexperience, and her brothers constantly belittling and underestimating her, but Keri must also contend with the failing magical boundary (a result of her father’s misconduct). Suddenly foreigners—soldiers from Torr Carron and a sorcerer from Eschalion—are able to enter Nimmira, which they gaze upon with greedy eyes. It’s a crisis, and Keri must quickly figure out whom she can rely upon, while also learning to trust her own common sense, intelligence, and creative thinking to become the leader she is capable of being. Infused with clever world-building, unforgettable characters, and sparkling writing, Rachel Neumeier’s tale is enchanting.

theradiantroadLike Keri, Clare Macleod must find the courage and confidence to embrace the destiny that awaits her. In an attempt to avoid their grief, Clare, almost 15, and her geologist father have been traveling the world since her mother’s death nine years ago. Now it’s time to return to Ireland and her mother’s ancestral home, an ancient stone house built into a hillside with a living yew tree as a wall. Suddenly, at first reluctantly, Clare is infused with memories of her mother and an impossible-to-ignore awareness of the Strange—fairy magic—that has always haunted the edges of her life. When she meets her onetime childhood companion Finn, who leads her back inside the tree, she discovers that she, like all of the women in her family, is the guardian of the gate between realms, and a dark and terrifying enemy is threatening both worlds. Lushly dreamy and lyrically poetic, Katherine Catmull’s Radiant Road (Dutton, 2016; Gr 7 Up) spins out an epic good-versus-evil tale while exploring the liberating power of creativity, the importance of self-knowledge, and the glories of finding one’s passion. Lovely-to-savor language, familiar yet freshly imagined elements, and a heroine who slowly and satisfyingly comes into her own make for an entrancing read.

Publication Information

BARDUGO, Leigh. Six of Crows. Holt. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781627792127; ebk $9.99. ISBN 9781627795227.

CASTNER, K.D. The Daughters of Ruin. S. & S. Apr. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481436656; ebk $10.99. ISBN 9781481436670.

CATMULL, Katherine. Radiant Road. Dutton. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525953470; ebk $10.99. ISBN 9781101600283; audio CD $45. ISBN 9780147525635; audiobook download $25. ISBN 9780147525642.

CHIMA, Cinda Williams. Flamecaster. HarperCollins. Apr. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062380944; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780062380968; audio download $27.99. ISBN 9780062440549.

DENNARD, Susan. Truthwitch. Tor. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780765379283; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781466867321.

FINE, Sarah. The Imposter Queen. S. & S. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481441902; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781481441926.

GOODMAN, Alison. The Dark Days Club. Viking. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780670785476; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781101592021.

HEILIG, Heidi. The Girl from Everywhere. HarperCollins. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062380753; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780062380777; audio download $24.99. ISBN 9780062447326.

NEUMEIER, Rachel. The Keeper of the Mist. Knopf. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553509281; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780553509298; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780553509304.

ROWELL, Rainbow. Carry On: The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow. St. Martin’s/Griffin. 2015. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250049551. ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781466850545. unabridged CD $49.99. ISBN 9781427262028; unabridged digital audio $17.99. ISBN 9781427262035.

SKYE, Evelyn. The Crown’s Game. HarperCollins. May 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062422583; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062422606; audio download $24.99. ISBN 9780062468055.

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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